Five Times Arizonans Got Scammed — and One New One

Don't fall victim to fraud.
Don't fall victim to fraud. Arizona Department of Public Safety; New Times illustration
The phone rings.

It’s Sergeant John Scott with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, a voice claims. I haven’t done anything wrong, you think. Stay cool.

The caller tells you you’ve missed a jury summons. To avoid arrest, you must pay a fine using money cards. Panic ensues.

The caller requests you buy $2,000 in cash cards. You must call a local number and then turn over the cards, the voice says.

If you’ve received a phone call like this recently and paid up, I’m sorry to inform you you’ve been bamboozled.

The MCSO put out a press release recently warning Maricopa County residents about phone scammers requesting payment and fines.

“The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the courts system DO NOT contact residents by phone requesting payment for a warrant or fine and will not accept any type of gift cards or money cards as payment,” an MCSO statement reads.

But those who’ve fallen victim to this kind of fraud aren’t alone. Arizonans have been falling for and guarding against similar scams for years. It's enough to never make you answer the phone again.

Here are a few recent schemes Arizonans have fallen for:

Bad Credit Con

A group of 20-something men and women collectively lost more than $118,000 when con artists allegedly used Craigslist help-wanted ads asking for administrative assistants to lure young job seekers in for faux interviews, Phoenix New Times previously reported.

Alas, the young people didn’t get the jobs — the shady supposed employers told their naive applicants they needed better credit to ensure a position. But they had a magical solution! The millennials could simply take out a bank loan and give their new employers the proceeds, which they were told would later be paid back and could help improve the victims’ credit. What could go wrong!? The loans weren’t repaid, and the job seekers’ credit actually deteriorated.

Luckily, the perpetrators of the scheme were arrested.

Cheating Out of China

An Arizona State University student from China faced a federal conspiracy charge for cheating her way into the university’s business school. Xiaomeng Cheng was arrested for allegedly convincing an imposter to take a required English-proficiency test in her place.

Cheng had to score at least a score of 61 on her Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to be accepted into the Tempe university. She failed to meet that benchmark when she took the test three times in 2014, but miraculously came in hot with a score of 91 in 2016.

The feds said this wasn’t due to hard work and perseverance. A 25-year-old Chinese student at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, reportedly confessed to taking the test for Cheng in exchange for money.

Notario Knock Out

This winter, a woman duped at least five undocumented immigrants out of thousands of dollars, claiming she could bring visas, social security cards, and their family members from Mexico.

And they aren’t the only victims of fraud by immigration document preparers in Arizona. State Senator Martin Quezada, a Democrat who represents Maryvale and Glendale, thought it was necessary to sponsor a bill this legislative session that would make it more difficult for notarios, or notary publics, to pose as attorneys and claim to be able to help with immigration issues, Phoenix New Times reported previously.

Dating Deceit

Arizona singles take heed: Swiping left could keep criminals from swiping your savings.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich told single Arizonans this February to look out for dates that could spiral into deception. The warning came weeks after a Scottsdale man created online dating profiles that he’d use to scam at least 13 romantic interests into putting thousands of dollars each into fraudulent investments, the Arizona Republic reported.

Next time, try meeting your Romeo at one of these singles-approved Phoenix spots. 

Duped in the Dark

If you thought these scammers were just targeting vulnerable individuals, you were wrong. These tricksters know no bounds and will even dare to deceive upscale farm-to-table American fare restaurants. One such restaurant, FnB in Scottsdale, was the victim of utility fraud back in 2015, New Times reported at the time.

A mystery caller told restaurant employees just before lunchtime that the eatery was two months behind on their utility payments, and the lights would be shut off in 30 minutes if they didn’t purchase a prepaid money card and give them the number over the phone.

The restaurant complied and was out $900 and some dignity.

You can never be too careful: For a full list of Arizona consumer scams, check out the Arizona Attorney General's website.

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Molly Longman